The attractive 2011 Hyundai Elantra sedan is arguably the best-looking smallish sedan in the country.
It's also a value-minded five-seater that lets buyers add coveted features, like navigation system, rearview camera, upscale alloy wheels and 360-watt, premium audio, and still wind up with a sticker price of $20,350 or less.
Every Elantra sedan is government rated at 40 miles per gallon in highway driving. Buyers don't have to pay more _ as they do with the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze and 2011 Ford Fiesta _ to get a high-mileage version.
And the Elantra, like every Hyundai, comes with a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and a limited bumper-to-bumper warranty for 5 years/60,000 miles.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a 2011 Elantra GLS sedan is $15,695 with manual transmission and $17,945 with automatic.
Note the Elantra's automatic is a six speed, which uses its six gears to maximize fuel mileage. The automatic also has Shiftronic, allowing drivers to shift from gear to gear sans clutch pedal, if they want to control upshifts and downshifts for a sporty experience.
In comparison, the 2012 Honda Civic, which has a starting retail price of $15,575 with manual tranny and $17,375 with automatic, has a five-speed automatic with no shift-it-yourself function and a lower city and highway fuel economy rating.
And while the 2011 Toyota Corolla, with a retail starting price of $16,660, generates 132 horsepower from its 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine, the 2011 Elantra gets 148 horses out of its Hyundai-built 1.8-liter four cylinder.
Even the Chevrolet Cruze, with a starting MSRP plus destination charge of $17,275 with manual transmission, delivers less horsepower _ 138 _ from its uplevel, turbocharged four cylinder than the base Elantra has.
There are two body styles of the Elantra: Sedan and a five-door Touring hatchback.
Elantra sales surpassed 100,000 in the first six months of this calendar year, illustrating a strong attraction for the redesigned car that's the second smallest in the Hyundai lineup, after the Accent.
The 2011 revamp of the Elantra added 1 inch in overall length and 2 inches to the car's wheelbase, which is the distance from the middle of one wheel to the middle of the other wheel on the same side of the car.
The result is more passenger room _ so much that passenger volume now surpasses that of the Corolla, Ford Fiesta and Focus as well as Chevy's Cruze.
Indeed, with the 14.8 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk added in, the Elantra's total volume of 110.4 inches qualifies it as a mid-size sedan, not a compact, according to the federal government.
You may not feel like you're in a mid-size car when you're riding in the back seat, though. While seats are comfortable, three adults sit closely touching each other in the back seat, and there's just 33.1 inches of rear-seat legroom compared with 36-plus inches in the back of the Corolla and Civic sedans.
The test Elantra was a base GLS model with automatic and the right selection of extras, such as the aforementioned nav and premium audio systems, rearview camera, upscale alloy wheels and steering wheel controls. The car looked and felt upscale and topped out at just $20,345.
In 100-degree temperatures, I preferred the nicely-done beige cloth seats in the test Elantra because they weren't scorching hot to sit on the way leather seats can be. Too bad there were some dirty spots on the driver seat cushion from a previous driver.
I didn't have textured, fancy ceiling material or plush trunk lining in the Elantra. But I was glad, since this helped keep the car price low so money could go, instead, for the brightly lit nav screen that was fitted right into the top of the dashboard. It was much easier to use and see than the odd-looking, add-on-type nav systems used in other small cars.
Audio sounds were clear and satisfying, and the upscale radio included XM satellite service
Most impressive was how quiet the test Elantra rode. Interior noise was kept at a minimum and was noteworthy in this segment.
The 1.8-liter, double overhead cam four cylinder that's in all Elantras isn't turbocharged but has continuously variable valve control to balance fuel mileage with performance.
Torque peaks at 131 foot-pounds at 4,700 rpm, so acceleration in the tester was comfortably mainstream, not push-you-in-the-seat forceful.
I didn't strive for fuel mileage in combined city/highway travel, so I never got near the 40-mpg government highway rating. But I easily managed just over 27 mpg, which is decent for a car this size that was pushed to perform.
At barely 2,700 pounds, the Elantra had a sprightly feel in city traffic, and it accelerated decently on the highway.
There's nothing gimmicky about the gauges or controls, and the overall sense, for anyone who remembers earlier Elantras, is that the Elantra has moved upscale in a big way.
I liked how the rear-seat floor was nearly flat, so there's no big hump to contend with, and a rear-seat center armrest is in every Elantra. Rear seat head room, at 37.1 inches, is on par with that of the Corolla and Honda, which is surprising given that the Elantra's roofline slopes back there to give a coupe-like appearance.
Rear seatbacks fold down to accommodate long items protruding from the trunk.
All safety features, including curtain air bags, stability control and traction control are standard. This includes antilock brakes with brake discs at all four wheels. The Chevy Cruze base model and Toyota Corollas have more traditional brake drums at the rear wheels.